Last month, tech billionaire Elon Musk and his partner Claire ‘Grimes’ Boucher welcomed their first child together – a son, whose name rapidly became the source of much amusement and even a few tabloid headlines. Actor Sumeet Vyas, who welcomed baby boy earlier this month, too recently opened up about his experiences as a first time father. Naming dilemmas notwithstanding, the journey into first-time fatherhood can be daunting for many; when this transition must be made during an ongoing pandemic, it takes on new meaning.
Recent estimates by UNICEF indicate that India has the largest number of expected pregnancies and births during the lockdown (20.1 million, to be precise). For these parents, the joy of childbirth is also tinged with disruptions in services, limited access to support networks and strained healthcare systems.
“In many ways, the role of the father has become more important during the pandemic – my wife underwent a C-section delivery and was prescribed complete bed rest for two months. In addition to caring for our daughter’s basic needs, I must also take responsibility for comforting my wife when she becomes anxious about our baby’s health and being able to cope with the many restrictions that the lockdown has imposed on us. I’ve found that being calm and focused can go a long way in making the situation manageable – it’s easy to become overwhelmed when there are so many factors at play,” says Abhishek Bhasin. He adds that learning to cope with the baby’s erratic schedule has made him much more mindful and patient – qualities that he believes will serve all fathers well during the pandemic.
Organised but flexible
With the baby’s nanny having to leave work during the lockdown, Imran Ladak found that having a schedule that involved splitting up time and responsibilities with his partner went a long way in helping them to better manage the situation. However, he also warns that “being very rigid about adhering to this schedule can easily become frustrating. Remember, your baby will do what (s)he wants, regardless of the tasks you’ve laid out for the day. Going with the flow and trying to do as much as you can as the day unfolds is important.”
A mixed blessing
For Kanishk Tuteja, the hardest part about becoming a father during the lockdown has been not being able to celebrate important milestones with friends and family. “In our culture, especially, a new birth brings with it many ceremonies. It is a very social affair. However, we have been very vigilant about social distancing and this has meant giving up on these festivities. At the same time, as an entrepreneur in the hospitality industry, work stresses are at an all-time high. This said, having a baby to focus on has made the passage of this troubled time much sweeter – I’ve been too busy to worry about the future of my business. All I can do is get as much work done as is possible and then spend time with my child – thanks to the lockdown, I am able to spend much more time with my new-born baby than I ever would have been able to. I’ve also begun to learn new skills – including DIY décor and photography – so that I can make this period much more memorable and special.”
Ladak adds that the addition of a new member to the household has filled him with great optimism, despite the adverse impact of the pandemic on his work. “Becoming a father has made me more positive about the future and more resilient – I am confident that things will work out for the best of our family, no matter how bleak the situation seems right now. I’ve also learned to take the highs as well as the lows in my stride. There’s so much to look forward to, so many new experiences that I hope to share with my baby boy,” he says.
All about your state of mind
The pandemic and the resultant isolation have completely changed the game, as far as new parents are concerned, explains Dr Nahid Dave, psychiatrist at Thought Matters. “Most couples are now worried about the health of the mother and child, while also struggling to come to terms with the social isolation and uncertainty. A new baby brings with it a lot of added responsibility and expenses. There’s also the fact that new fathers must now spend much more time with their wife and child than they had initially planned,” she says. How fathers react to these stressors is largely dependent on their innate personality and perception of the situation at hand.
“I’ve found that for most fathers, the act of bringing new life into the world is a hopeful experience. Even for those who are struggling with pay cuts and economic uncertainty, spending time with their baby fills them with hope,” she explains. If you do find yourself bogged down by fears, she recommends changing your perspective of the situation. “If worrying is leading you to work towards a solution, the act of worrying can be productive. Else, it can be much like running endlessly on a treadmill in the hopes of getting somewhere. Spending time with your child can be therapeutic and healing. If you do catch yourself caught in a cycle and worrying and despair, simply saying ‘Stop’ out loud to yourself can pull you back to the present and help you check the downward spiral."